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Expats looking to move to Portugal might find that the country’s healthcare system poses some significant challenges.
Both public and private healthcare options are available in Portugal. Private healthcare in Portugal is steadily gaining popularity among expats and becoming more readily available. The public healthcare system in Portugal, however, continues to frustrate and disappoint locals and expats alike.
Those moving to Portugal will find it reassuring that virtually every doctor is conversant in English in major cities. This is true of both public and private healthcare facilities in Portugal. Whether other employees in the health sector, such as nurses and technicians, speak English will depend on the location of the facilities. Areas with a larger expat population, such as Lisbon and the Algarve, will naturally have more bilingual employees. Expats living in rural parts of Portugal shouldn't rely on healthcare professionals to speak English, though, and should ensure they can speak an adequate amount of Portuguese in order to communicate at the local hospital or clinic.
Public healthcare facilities in Portugal
Access to public healthcare in Portugal is free for children under 18 and people over 65. All other legal residents can access public healthcare at low rates. Basic services can be found in rural areas but travel to a larger city will be necessary for specialised care. Public hospitals and clinics in Portugal are frequently understaffed and overcrowded.
The shortage of physicians has caused long waiting lists for non-life-threatening surgeries and a strain on the system as a whole, which often forces Portuguese nationals and expats alike to use emergency-room services in place of a general practitioner. At the public level, technology is often lacking and it can be difficult to arrange an appointment with a specialist.
EU nationals living in Portugal will be pleased to find that consultations with a GP and basic vaccines are free. Non-EU expats may have to pay some fees for public healthcare in Portugal, but the amount will depend on whether there is a reciprocal healthcare agreement between Portugal and the expat's home country.
Both EU and non-EU expats with residency in Portugal must obtain a National Health Service user card in order to take advantage of the free public healthcare system. This can be done at a local health centre with a passport and residency card. Non-EU expats will also need to provide a social security card.
Private healthcare facilities in Portugal
Private healthcare in Portugal is expensive, especially for those who don't have health insurance. However, private healthcare is the best option for those who can afford a relatively low-cost health insurance policy.
Long queues and crowded waiting rooms are seldom seen in private health clinics or hospitals in Portugal. Doctors at private establishments in Portugal are generally skilful and more attentive.
Most banks in Portugal now offer information on their choice of private health insurance provider. While some larger corporations and government bodies offer private health insurance to their employees, this is not the norm, nor is it required by law. Therefore expats should be prepared to pay for their own healthcare expenses whilst living in Portugal.
Pharmacies and medicines in Portugal
Pharmacies in Portugal are widely available and easily accessible. They can be found in most town centres and shopping malls.
Since many medications are subsidised, with the proper prescription from a general practitioner or specialist, medication can be obtained for a very low cost. The cost rises significantly without a prescription, even for the most common of medications.
During a consultation, if a doctor offers a prescription for a medication that doesn’t require one it is wise to accept it, even for common cough medicines or anti-inflammatories. Having these prescriptions saves money when it comes to purchasing medication at the pharmacy.
For surgeries performed in public hospitals, medications administered in the hospitals are free. However, doctors often ask patients to bring medications to the hospital to be administered after the operation.
There are few restrictions on medicine being brought into Portugal, as long as paperwork can be provided to prove that the medication is for personal use only.
Emergency services in Portugal
Emergency services in Portugal can be reached by dialling 112.
Paramedics who respond to emergencies are adequately trained, generally proficient and considerate.
In serious emergencies, it's not unusual for patients to be quickly transferred from a less equipped hospital to a more specialised care unit in the closest large city.
► Education and Schools in Portugal is essential reading for all expat parents.
► Read Cost of Living in Portugal for tips on budgeting for life in the country
"We pay less than $100 a month each for excellent health insurance. We pay more than average because of our age bracket!" Read more about Bob's expat experience in Portugal.
"I have only needed to see a doctor once and was able to walk straight in and see someone with no appointment and no wait." Learn about Sarah's life in Portugal.
Are you an expat living in Portugal?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Portugal. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Michael Andrzejewski fills most of his day with pastoring a small flock in northern Portugal and coaching the Maximinos Warriors American football team. Since graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1997, Michael has pastored and served as a missionary in both the US and abroad. Having published articles online and in print in both English and Portuguese, he is always looking for a new challenge, literary or otherwise. He is very grateful for the love and support of his beautiful wife Nina and their five children.
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